Personality cult

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A choir performance in East Germany.
♫I'm the smiling face on your TV

♫I'm the cult of personality
♫I exploit you, still you love me

♫I tell you one and one makes three
—Living Colour, "Cult of Personality"[1]
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A personality cult or cult of personality is a system in which the political legitimacy of an organization is the function of the leader. Often such leaders are able to control a group of people through the sheer force of their personality. In extreme cases the leader can be portrayed as a god-like figure.

Where the personality cult forms around a head of state, criticising that person is generally prohibited and/or dangerous - with threats made against the critics by supporters of the head of state. Where the head of state has attained strong or complete control of state-sponsored media they have often used this to spread propaganda to ensure that the masses receive a consistent positive picture of the head of state. Propaganda will typically depict the leader as being a great leader, a genius prophet or a god-like figure, able to relate to ordinary people and upholding their interests, always in command - shown in propaganda with commanding appearance and never shown in submission to anyone. Frequently personality-cult leaders claim to be devoted to a mission as the embodiment of the will of the people or of the nation. Leaders promoting personality cults will frequently tie their own image to various national heroes as a means of legitimating themselves and their policies (think of Roman Emperor Augustus Caesar making his great-uncle the Roman Dictator Julius Caesar a deity and dedicating monuments to him, or of Soviet posters showing the faces of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin and Mao).

Various monarchies claimed some form of divine sanction, but that doesn't necessarily make them personality cults in the modern sense, as the phenomenon is most commonly associated with post-19th-century mass-media.

New surfaces may be produced for no other reason than to present that image, as satirized with the balloon bearing Joseph Stalin's image in an empty field in the 1994 Russian film Burnt by the Sun.[2]

Personality cults are often found in strongly authoritarian societies like absolute monarchies with no democracy in them, but they can also develop in authoritarian semi-democratic societies like those of Julius Caesar and Augustus Caesar, or in totalitarian societies like Nazi Germany under Adolf Hitler or like the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin. Although it is very rare to see them in strongly democratic countries, they do occur from time to time.


  • Saint Ronald Reagan for Republicans and John F. Kennedy (sometimes Franklin D. Roosevelt, but not always for obvious reasons) for Democrats,[note 1] and the Founding Fathers in general[note 2] (USA)
  • Donald Trump (USA): "I alone can fix it" [3]
  • Juan Perón and his wife Eva "Evita" Perón (Argentina), along with her fans Peronistas. Cristina Kirchner and her deceased husband Nestor Kirchner are following their footsteps with Kirchnerism.
  • Heydar Aliyev and his son, Ilham Aliyev (Azerbaijan): Aliyev Senior is often proclaimed as the Atatürk of Azerbaijan
  • Getúlio Vargas (Brazil), and currently Lula for the left and Jair Bolsonaro for the right.
  • Pierre Trudeau and his son Justin (Canada). Jean Chrétien is also worshiped, but not as to the extent as the Trudeaus.
  • René Lévesque (Quebec): practically a god to Québécois independence activists and supporters of Quebec Bill 101 (the Charter of the French Language) (even if René was more moderate on language than some of the PQ, and would have resigned as leader rather than eliminate English-language public schools as some party members proposed). Camille Laurin, creator of Bill 101, is similarly regarded, though nowhere to the extent compared to Mon cher René.
  • Jean-Bédel Bokassa, later Emperor Bokassa I (Central African Republic): briefly reformed the country into the Central African Empire.
  • Salvador Allende for the left and Augusto Pinochet for the right (Chile), though Allende's worship is nowhere to the extent compared to Pinochet, who had overthrown Allende and turned the country into a dictatorship.
  • Chiang Kai-shek and his son Chiang Ching-kuo (China and later Taiwan)
  • Chairman Mao and Xi "Winnie the Pooh" Jinping[4][5] (China): Mao was literally worshiped, had loyalty dances and inspired a Cultural Revolution because his relative power in the Communist Party was shrinking. His successors, up until Xi, deliberately went out of their way to avoid building personality cults.
  • Li Hongzhi (China): self-proclaimed "Main Buddha of the Universe".
  • Álvaro Uribe (Colombia)
  • Che Guevara and Fidel Castro (Cuba): even though Castro disliked the concept and his last wish was that no statues would be erected in his honor and no streets or cities be named after him[6]
  • Rafael Trujillo (Dominican Republic)
  • Gamal Abdel Nasser, Hosni Mubarak,[7] and Abdel Fattah el-Sisi[8] (Egypt): following in the well trodden footsteps of their Pharaonic predecessors.
  • Maximilien Robespierre and Napoleon Bonaparte (France)
  • Philippe Pétain (Vichy France)
  • Adolf Hitler (Nazi Germany)
  • François "Papa Doc" Duvalier and his son, Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier (Haiti)
  • Miklós Horthy and Viktor Orbán (Hungary)
  • Jawaharlal Nehru and the Gandhian dynasty (India)
  • Sukarno and his successor, Suharto (Indonesia)
  • Ayatollah Khomeini (and by extension, Ayatollah Khamenei) (Iran)
  • Saddam Hussein (Iraq)
  • Benito Mussolini (Fascist Italy)
  • Silvio Berlusconi (Italy)
  • Emperor Hirohito (Japan): until 1945 the Japanese imperial clan claimed to be descendants from the Sun goddess Amaterasu; this claim was especially emphasized starting with the Meiji emperor. The American occupation put an end to it.
  • Shoko Asahara(Japan): founder of the Aum Shinrikyo cult.
  • Nursultan Nazarbayev (Kazakhstan): the capital of Kazakhstan was renamed Nur-Sultan in his honor after his resignation.
  • Kim Il Sung ("Eternal President" even after his death), his son, and then his grandson (North Korea)
  • Park Chung-Hee (South Korea)
  • Muammar al-Gaddafi (Libya)
  • Alfredo Stroessner (Paraguay)
  • Alberto Fujimori and his daughter Keiko FujimoriWikipedia (Peru): along with several FujimoristWikipedia political parties
  • Ferdinand Marcos and Rodrigo Duterte (Philippines)
  • Józef Piłsudski (Poland): suppressed in Communist Poland, but rehabilitated into some sort of Founding Father by the post-communist government. Jarosław Kaczyński, leader of Law and Justice (PiS), is following his footsteps.
  • Augustus Caesar and Caligula (Roman Empire): though the worship of Augustus as a god after his death takes the cake.
  • Carol II, Ion Antonescu, and Nicolae Ceauşescu (Romania): Ceauşescu modeled his image after those of his predecessors and well as Kim Il Sung's.
  • Vladimir Putin (Russia): Rehabilitating the images of both Stalin and the Czars!
  • Slobodan Milošević and Aleksandar Vučić (Serbia)
  • Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin (Soviet Union). Also applies to Leonid Brezhnev to a lesser extent, with his love of giving himself medals.
  • Francisco Franco (Spain): he is still deadWikipedia.
  • Omar Hassan Ahmad Al-Bashir (Sudan)
  • Hafez al-Assad and his son, Bashar al-Assad (Syria)
  • King Bhumibol Adulyadej and his son, King Vajiralongkorn (Thailand): lèse-majesté laws can lead to a 70-year sentence for insulting the Thai royal family. Although King Bhumibol Adulyadej personally opposed the laws, the Thai military junta uses it to suppress dissidents.
  • Several Dalai Lamas (Tibet)
  • Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali (Tunisia)
  • Mehmed II and Abdul Hamid II (Ottoman Empire)
  • Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (Turkey)
  • Saparmurat Niyazov (Turkmenistan: aka Türkmenbaşy (lit. Father of all Turkmen. Read his book three times get into heaven free!), and his successor Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow.
  • Idi Amin Dada (Uganda): gave himself the title "His Excellency, President for Life, Field Marshal Al Hadji Doctor Idi Amin Dada, VC, DSO, MC, CBE (Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular), Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Seas".
  • Joseph Kony (Uganda): leader of the Lord's Resistance Army
  • Stepan Bandera (Ukraine): After being suppressed for decades by the USSR, Bandera's Ukrainian Insurgent Army is officially commemorated by the current Ukrainian government, despite being responsible for collaboration with the Nazis and massacring PolesWikipedia.
  • Hugo Chavez and his successor Nicholas Maduro (Venezuela): Maduro and his fellow Chavistas frequently depicts himself along with pictures of Hugo Chavez and founding father Simon Bolivar).
  • Ho Chi Minh (Vietnam): has a cityWikipedia named after him.
  • Ali Abdullah Saleh (Yemen)
  • Josip Broz Tito (Yugoslavia)
  • Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu Wa Za Banga (Zaïre): his concept of authenticité
  • Andrew Schlafly (mostly USA): beloved by non-troll Conservapedians, a lot of which is likely due to his sheer amount of power on the shite scaring them
  • Phyllis Schlafly (USA): Andrew's mother and practically a god to many antifeminists and homophobes
  • Devon "Atheism-is-Unstoppable" Tracey (USA)
  • Ayn Rand and her Randroids (USA)
  • Charles Manson and his "Family" (USA)
  • G. Edward Griffin (USA)
  • David Koresh and the disaster we know as Waco (USA)
  • Jim Jones and his equally disastrous "Kool-Aid drinkers" (USA)
  • Steve Jobs (USA): co-founder of Apple Computers known for his showmanship and obnoxiously perfectionist behavior.
  • Elon Musk (USA): (in)famous businessman and engineer known for his batshit insane approach to new technologies (and to name his child what is literally a robot name). Hyperloop anyone?
  • Richard Dawkins and the New Atheist "Four Horsemen" in general for atheists (mostly UK): Once heroes to many liberals... until half[note 3] moved in the opposite political direction (for example: Sam Harris's support for racial profiling and torture, and his supporters' attempts to normalize his near-Islamophobia, and Dawkins falling down a similar rabbit hole).
  • William "Reverend Billy" Talen (USA): batshit insane anti-consumerist performance artist/activist and founder of the equally batshit Church of Stop Shopping
  • Rachel Corrie (USA): A rare posthumous example - she is practically treated like a goddess by the more loonier pro-Palestinian activists as well as quite a few anti-Semites (as well as the Iranian government, to the point of having a street in Tehran named after her).
  • Meir Kahane (USA/Israel): Founder of the Jewish Defense League, considered a terrorist group in both Israel and The USA. Fellow JDL member Baruch Goldstein, who murdered 29 Palestinians, is similarly regarded by extremist Zionists.
  • Ingrid Newkirk and other PETA activists such as Dan Mathews (mostly USA).
  • Aung San Suu Kyi (Burma Myanmar)
  • Rafael del Riego (Spain): one of the old Spanish national anthemsWikipedia was dedicated to him
  • Cindy Sheehan (USA): moonbat anti-war activist-turned-9/11 truther

In pop culture[edit]

For various reasons, the idea of a personality cult is entering pop culture spheres, sometimes as just another set piece (such as in "Cult of Personality" by Living Colour in 1988), but sometimes it's a major element of a movie. An example is the German film The Wave (originally made in 1981 and remade in 2008). The movie was based on the social experiment called "Third Wave" created by Ron Jones,Wikipedia and is about a German teacher who attempts to show his high school students what fascism is. As a result, he accidentally creates a personality cult that leads to large amounts of vandalism, an attempted murder, and a suicide when the instructor (Wenger) tells his students that the experiment is over. The 2001 German thriller film Das Experiment is somewhat similar. The Emperor of Mankind is also a fine example.

External links[edit]


  1. A portion of people reading this article will be probably thinking "Why not Obama?" Simple: looking back from today, it was a very short one. The most important element of a personality cult is the usage of authority to perpetuate artificial 'apotheosis'; you don't want videos [, such] as these lying around. American society has an unusual tendency to mythologize Presidents (ironically, even worse than today's constitutional monarchies), and over time ignore the very things which make them human. But who knows what will happen in 50 years to the legacy of the first POTUS who transcended the barriers of race. (We'd like an objective account, thanks.)
  2. Thomas Jefferson in particular is practically a God to Libertarians who love quoting him whenever they need to explain their beliefs on certain subjects, and is the namesake of the free speech group the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression, who run the Jefferson Muzzle Awards (think the Golden Raspberry Awards but for (what libertarians perceive as) violations of the First Amendment instead of bad movies, and not as racist and homophobic as the Razzies are)
  3. Christopher Hitchens seems to have survived this downfall, even despite his usual oddities. Dennet seems okay too, for now.


  1. Living Colour Lyrics "Cult Of Personality"
  2. Burnt by the Sun, IMDB
  3. Personality vs. Party, National Review
  4. "Xi Jinping: the growing cult of China's 'Big Daddy Xi'". Daily Telegraph. 8 December 2014. Retrieved on 5 October 2015.
  5. See the Wikipedia article on Xi Jinping's cult of personality.
  6. Is Castro’s battle to avoid a personality cult destined to fail? (2016-12-05) France 24.
  7. Muriel Mirak-Weissbach (1 May 2012). Madmen at the Helm: Pathology and Politics in the Arab Spring. Garnet Publishing Ltd. p. 2. ISBN 978-0-86372-457-2. 
  8. Neville Teller (28 September 2014). The Search for Détente:: Israel and Palestine 2012-2014. Troubador Publishing Ltd. p. 315. ISBN 978-1-78306-592-9.